Was Abraham Lincoln demoted during the Blackhawk War?

We get an inspirational Employee Information sheet every month with miscellaneous helpful articles and so forth. This month we get “10 people who made it big despite a rocky start,” credited to Perfectionism: What’s Bad About Being Too Good? by Miriam Adderholdt and Jan Goldberg. The last of these ten people is Abraham Lincoln, about which the authors say, “Abraham Lincoln started out as a captain at the end of the Blackhawk War. By the end of the war, he had been demoted to private.”

Well, my BS detector went off. I Googled on “Abraham Lincoln” “Blackhawk War” demoted and got eleven hits…but most of them are exactly the same text, just different sites. Googling on “Abraham Lincoln” “Blackhawk War” brings up a ton of hits verifying that Abe was indeed in the Illinois militia in the Blackhawk war…but no mention of demotion. In fact, this site says “Between his announced candidacy and the election, [Lincoln] served in the militia in the Blackhawk war. He never saw any fighting, but did run across some men recently killed by Indians. He was elected captain, which in later life he claimed made him as happy as any honor before or since. [italics mine]” which if anything seems diametrically opposite the previous claim.

This page, however, says “It will be remembered that Lincoln, then only 23 years old, had been elected captain of a company recruited to aid in fighting the Blackhawk War in 1832. He served as captain only a brief period then was discharged. He then enlisted as a private in the company of Captain Iles at Dixon’s Ferry.” Does “discharged” = “demoted”? Seems doubtful to me, but what’s the story behind this? Why would Abe jump companies? And should I start disbelieving the other nine tales of “People Who made It Big”?

Short version, courtesy of the Definitive Authority–my dad, who does Period Interpretation at Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site over in Coles County.

His backup.

I thought that the Illinois National Guard might shed some definitive light but it was dimmer than a dusty 15 watt bulb.

This link to the National Guard Bureau in the Pentagon Building gives a brief story–much the same as the one you gave–which can be, in my opinion, taken as nearly complete-truth. It’s so short that here it is:

A discharge is very, very much different than a demotion.

As I read the story, the unit he was in was, for all intents and purposes, gone. Kaput. Yet he seemed to want to continue to serve and so joined the scouting battallion.

In days of yore, there was a very common device called “brevet”. For example, George Custer was a Lt.-Col. but had been brevetted to the operational rank of Brig.-Gen. We, today, have a vaguely similar thing in the U.S. Army with permanent and temporary ranks.

I will keep looking, though, zut, since the facts I found are at wide variance with what I had always believed about Lincoln’s Militia service.

It doesn’t get too much better, zut, than Ms. Goose’s link to the NGB. I have given up looking for more facts in the face of such overwhelming competence.

I always believed that Abe had been the Captain of an artillery battery, as had been Harry Truman. I was wrong. I, sort of like Lincoln, served in war, but as a 2nd Lieut. in the Army Engineers to Abe’s service in the Infantry.

Yoikes! Every day one of my childhood fables seems to be vaporized by a post on the SDMB!

Woe, poor ignorance. The pitiless SDMB is out to destroy you. :frowning:

In other words, zut, the Motivational Handout was, as dishearteningly usual, not letting the facts get in the way of the point. But so was the book they quoted. Who knows, the other nine sources may have had better fact-checking.

I have found motivational handouts/posters/books/lectures tend to count on the audience not having access to the Straight Dope. This only reinforces my who-the-heck-cares work ethic :stuck_out_tongue:

So, Zut can we depend on you to contact the handout people and tell them the error of their ways? I can’t tell you how many websites I email with correct info. Of course, many of them are no longer active. I have actually had a few correct their erroneous info.

Parameter, the permanent/temporary rank thing disappeared from the U.S. Army some time ago, and even when we had it, it wasn’t the same thing as a brevet promotion (a.k.a. “battlefield promotion”). There is something called “frocking,” but it’s rare, used almost exclusively when dealing with other countries, and doesn’t carry any real weight, as did brevet promotions and so-called temporary ones when they existed.

Back to the OP – back then, the ranks were a lot looser than they are today. When it says Lincoln was “elected captain,” that’s exactly what happened – the other guys in the unit got together and said, “Well, someone has to be in charge, and Abe’s an ugly bastard, but he’s pretty smart.” His rank was good only in that unit, so when he went to another unit, he went with no rank. Imagine if the Army weren’t so much a bureaucracy as a biker gang.

I beg to differ with almost everything you wrote, stankow. When I left the Army–technically I was released from active duty–I held a permanent rank of 2nd Lieut but a temporary rank of Captain. As with Abe, my temporary rank as a Captain–technically, my AUS rank–disapeared and I was again a 2LT.

I was once personally involved in helping a squad leader get a “battlefield commission”, a promotion from Staff Sergeant to 2nd Lieut. A brevet-promotion was nothing like a battfield promotion; I don’t think that the two have anything at all in common except the new, higher rank. For one thing, a brevet did not carry any extra pay with it. :frowning:

If you had read that Great Google Searcher, Ms. Goose’s, reference, you would have noticed that Honest Abe was elected Captain because the troops thought they could get away with anything, not because he was “pretty smart” as you said.

Also, Abe didn’t transfer to another unit. He was discharged/mustered out of his first unit–a civilian once again–then joined a second unit, starting from scratch.

I don’t think that I would characterize the Militia as a “biker gang” rather than a military unit, for many reasons. For one thing, the Militia always–ever since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution–is under the laws as specified by the Congress whenever It is called into Active service with the U.S. See Title 10 of the U.S. Code for details if you are interested. :slight_smile:

I don’t think it’s even possible for an officer (captain) to get demoted down to an enlisted man (private). I’m sure they would kick you out or throw you in the brig if you did anything that bad.

First of all, Cisco, I notice that you use the word “brig”. Things are very much different in the Naval services than they are in the ground-pounding services–like the Army.

Not only, Cisco, is it possible for an officer (captain) to change to a lower rank such as private, it’s not all that uncommon. Whenever there is a major reduction in the force-strength, there are those who gladly take a substantial reduction in rank to get the time-in-service needed for retired-pay. This can even extend to resigning a commission then enlisting as a “private E-0” and serving the few-to-several years needed to get the 20-years-of-service needed for retirment.

You are, however, probably correct if you are thinking about some sort of administrative or judicial procedure.

Abe Lincoln, the topic of this thread, was in a different era. The militia were not well-maintained by the states and his unit was just formed: out of thin air and volunteers. When it was disbanded, the unit itself just went back into thin-air. Lincoln then joined another unit, but the only available rank-positions were privates. At least that is how I read Ms. D. D. Goose’s links into the National Guard Bureau. :slight_smile:

I did say “for some time” rather than “ever.” When did you REFRAD?

Again, not saying that it never happened. Merely that it doesn’t anymore.

You are right that brevets and battlefields weren’t the same thing for most of the Army’s existence (though they have been). Mea culpa.

I think my reference to them calling him an “ugly bastard” was a pretty dead giveaway that I wasn’t providing historical referent.

Which isn’t the same thing. Grant was a civilian between military jobs as well, but he didn’t lose his commission. Had Lincoln been a regular officer, he wouldn’t have gone back down to private.

I don’t think I “characterized” the capital-M Militia as a biker gang. I merely made a loose analogy. Constitutional questions aside, you have to admit that organizationally, the Militia in those days was not quite at the bureaucratic level of the modern-day Army.

Stankow, you wrote "Which isn’t the same thing. Grant was a civilian between military jobs as well, but he didn’t lose his commission. " I believe that you are incorrect in this.

While hunting through the Illinois Guard’s site, I found where they were proud that U.S.G. came into the war as a Colonel in the Illinois Militia.

I had thought that he joined the Missouri Militia as a Captain when the war began; seemingly, I was wrong. :frowning:

Grant totally lost his regular commission when he left the Army, as did W.T. Sherman. Sherman left as a Major but was re-commissioned as a Colonel in the Army of the United States. As I recall things, Grant also applied to re-join the U.S. Army but was denied–which is why he came in through the Illinois Militia.

When you wrote “Had Lincoln been a regular officer, he wouldn’t have gone back down to private.”, I agree with you. However Lincoln would never have been a regular officer with the United States–that is just not anywhere in his background, in any possibility that* I* can see. :slight_smile: